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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3255

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - Speaking to the estimates for the Postmaster-General's Department, first of all I should like to draw attention to something that I have mentioned previously, and that is the problem of providing telephones in rural areas. I know that the Postmaster-General's Department has trouble in meeting the demand for telephones throughout the whole of the Commonwealth, and I accept that, but I repeat that I believe the need for telephones in rural areas is much greater than it is in the metropolitan areas and, therefore, the installation of telephones in rural areas should be given a higher priority than this Government is prepared to give it. In addition, the cost of providing telephones in rural areas is beyond the capacity of many people who urgently need telephones for their own businesses and for the protection of their wives and families.

Under the previous Government the first 15 miles of a telephone line was provided free of charge to the subscriber, but today that installation would cost the subscriber more than $5,000. This indicates how difficult it is for many people to get a telephone installed. It might be considered that people ought to meet this cost if it were not for the fact that the cost of installing a telephone has increased because of the upgrading of the standard of telephone services. I believe that it is wise and necessary to upgrade the standard in those areas where subscriber trunk dialling will be provided within a measurable time, but in many areas it seems to me that subscriber trunk dialling will not be provided for many years. In the meantime these people who are a long way removed from the metropolitan areas will have to conform to this very high standard although they will have to wait indefinitely to have their telephones converted to subscriber trunk dialling. So I urge the Government to look at the problem facing these people and to try to provide telephones for them at a much lower cost than that which they are presently being asked to meet.

The Government constantly is limiting and eliminating the services that are provided for people who live outside the closer settled areas of the Commonwealth. Surely we should look at the development of this nation from a national point of view and not merely be concerned with those people who live in and get the benefits of living in the closer settled areas. Sometimes members of the Australian Country Party are accused of thinking only about this matter, and the inference is that no one else thinks about it. I should like to quote from a letter which I received from the Queensland Branch of the Australian Postmasters Association. I noticed that the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Lionel Bowen) looked up when I mentioned that. I hope that he will take notice of what the Association says. If he will not take notice of what the Country Party says, he might take notice of an unbiased view expressed by the Australian Postmasters Association. The Association's letter of 11 October 1973, which was addressed to me, states:

The vacant position of official Postmaster at Windorah was gazetted after representations had been made to the Assistant Director (Postal) in Queensland by this Association. However, the position was not filled although, I understand, many applications were received. It is now proposed to reduce the status of the office and fill the vacancy by appointing a non-official Postmaster.

Reduction to non-official status will mean:

(i)   Official Post Office facilities will be withdrawn.

(i)   There will be no official Federal Government representative in the town.

(iii)   Local people will be denied the standard of service provided by a fully trained and experienced permanent career officer of the PMG Department.

(iv)   Official Postmasters in an office of this status are mostly young married people with young families attending the local school. They take a keen interest in local affairs and are generally active on local sporting and charitable organisations.

(v)   Under official conditions there is generally an avenue of employment for local school leavers. Many of today's Postmasters commenced their careers in small country towns.

(vi)   The Post Office building and residence will probably be sold. It would be unlikely to receive the attention it does as an official office and local expenditure on upkeep by the PostmasterGeneral's Department will cease.

Those fairly good reasons for maintaining the present position come not from a member of the Country Party but from the Australian Postmasters Association. In order to give an idea of the difference in attitude between the previous Government and this Government, I shall quote another paragraph from the letter. It states:

About15 years ago -

During the time of the previous Government - the Department saw fit to spend approximately $35,000 to build a new Post Office and residence at Windorah thus indicating it had faith in the ability of the area to maintain an office under official conditions then and in the foreseeable future.

But because of the increasingly severe conditions required to be met if official post office status is to be maintained under this Government, this looks like going by the board. I shall quote another paragraph from the letter; it falls into line with the comments that I made earlier today. It states:

The value of the primary products of this area, wool and beef, to the State of Queensland and the Commonwealth of Australia are tremendous and the need to maintain Windorah as an official Post Office to provide a complete postal service under official conditions is essential.

In this letter one can almost hear the Country Party speaking, but in fact the letter contains the views of the Australian Postmasters Association. So it indicates that we have people who are prepared to look at the position because they have members in these areas and they want to see that justice is done to the people in the areas. I commend very warmly the Queensland Branch of the Australian Postmasters Association on its broad-minded attitude to this matter.

I also refer to the fact that approximately 1,000 non-official post offices are listed for examination with a view to closing them. It is true that from time to time post offices in certain areas need to be closed, but when the position of 1,000 non-official post offices throughout the Commonwealth is to be examined, I am sure that one will find that among them are post offices which are sorely needed. But, as I have said, they are to be examined with a view to closing them. I refer to the 300 official post offices which are listed for examination with a view to declassifying them to non-official post offices. Here again the Australian Postmasters Association was active in an endeavour to help people in these areas to maintain these post offices, in spite of the completely selfish and unsympathetic attitude of this Government which looks at the matter purely from an economic point of view. What about the Treasurer (Mr Crean) taking a little bit of his own medicine? He is constantly hammering away at the Country Party in particular and at the Opposition in general and saying not to look at things in isolation. I appeal to the Government not to look at things in, isolation, but to look at the development of Australia as a nation.

I will explain in a few minutes just how far this matter has gone. I. will take as an example the town of Injune, which is a town of no fewer than 404 householders. By virtue of the efforts of the people who live in the area, Injune has a doctor and a hospital. It is a thriving community centre. What does the Postmaster-General's Department think about providing a post office for Injune? The post office in this town is one of those listed for examination with a view to reducing it from official to non-official status. There is no official post office within 0 miles of Injune. How does the Government know - how does anybody know - that when these post offices are reduced to non-official status we will be able to get the people to keep them operating?

I pay a tribute to the excellent work of the non-official post offices and to the postmasters and postmistresses throughout my area. They have done an excellent job, but they are getting a bit tired of trying to live out in this area under the conditions which are being forced upon them by this Government. So we will find that we might have greater difficulty in maintaining these post offices after they have been reduced to non-official status. When the post office in a town like Injune has to face the possibility of being reduced to nonofficial status, I think that it is going too far. How much further will this go? Decisions have been taken on the score of economy. How is the economy being achieved? In the main it is being achieved by sweating the people who are serving as non-official postmasters or postmistresses. That is how the sav ings are being made, and this Labor Government is prepared to do that. It is prepared to save money because it cannot run those post offices, and it is essential to maintain them, as cheaply as they can be run by somebody else. This is the argument that the Government uses to try to force non-official post offices on the people who do not want them. If the people want them, then let them have them by all means. If they do not want them, if they want to maintain the status of their towns, and if the town happens to be a town the size of Injune with 400 households, a hospital and a doctor, then I say it is up to the PostmasterGeneral and this Government to look at these things a bit more broadly and from a national point of view.

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